I think I was ten when my mother adopted a particular outfit that would become my lifelong style inspiration. It was the early/mid 70s, so the outfit comprised a tight-fitting knit top and a pair of gigantic loon-style pants, to be worn, naturally, over enormous wedges or platforms. The pants had a yoke and cuffs – I remember this because my mother sewed, and the pattern was reused at least once – and the top had a 3D-look embroidered rose on it, but these were not the things that made it stay in my mind.
The outfit was entirely black. It got many compliments from Mum’s friends and I remember distinctly thinking: “When I am an adult I’m going to wear black all the time.” In my 30s I realised that I had done it. And I still do.
Black is my favourite colour to wear. Periodically of course one tries to adopt a “new black”, for a change, or just wear some colourful skirt or dress because a piece of pretty fabric or aspirational fashion shot has urged one to. But without fail, that coloured garment winds up living in the wardrobe. Clothes I actually wear spend more time on the floordrobe. The fact that every single one of them is black makes it quite hard to sort through. But at least I know they all match. (Well, to a point. All black-wearers know there are hundreds of blacks.)
It may be no coincidence that I also started drinking my coffee black at 11. I don’t remember what time of year it was, but I do remember that it was a weekend, and there was no milk in the fridge. My parents had been drinking their (instant) coffee black for as long as I can remember, and because it was the 70s nobody had yet informed people that children should not drink tea or coffee, so I was given the option of taking mine black too, or having none at all. I piled in the sugar and discovered a new taste sensation.
I gave up sugar in hot beverages a few years later (for Lent: Catholicism is useful for cold-turkey quitting) but I’ll still add sugar to coffee if I’m feeling unwell. And to Arabic/Greek/Turkish coffee of course, because cardamom coffee sludge just ain’t the same without it.
I started dyeing my hair black at 18, kept it some variation on very dark brown for decades, and committed to natural platinum (ahem) at 42 or 43. What that decision made clear was that the time of messing round with non-black garments was also over. Nothing sets off my hair better than black. Since then I’ve travelled to foreign countries with just cabin baggage and an all-black capsule wardrobe. Bliss! Living through a natural disaster – which saw me turn up in Timaru for three months with a duffel bag containing several pairs of tights and undies, plus one bra, a cardigan, a pair of leggings, boots and my leather jacket – reinforced for me how far one can stretch a personal uniform with a few cool accessories. (OK, and more than one bra. And a dress or several.) Black allows one to disappear, yet make a statement at the same time. It’s protective, and practical, and effortless. Jewellers put pearls on black velvet for a reason. It allows you to glow, quietly. It enhances your creamy depths. It carries you from office to cocktail party to funeral to scuzzing round in the garden with a simple change of shoes. And it also carries with it a suggestion both of authority and discreet servitude, which is why , black-clad, you occasionally get mistaken for bar or retail staff. But this is a small price to pay.
Of course it annoys me that rugbyheads have stolen black on the fragile premise that “the All Blacks wear it”, but I’ve never worn black to be cool. Even though black is cool, of course. I know full well that not so many years back, these people sported double denim and polar fleece when they went to the Church in London and attended their so-called “games” of “sport”. Their adoption of black can only be a good thing for our nation’s sartorial reputation abroad.
Now if only we can do something about their shoes.